Christopher's Bible Blog

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Location: Colorado Springs, Colorado, United States

Sunday, July 30, 2006

Genesis Chs. 24-36: God's wascally wabbits

The stories of Isaac and Jacob cast the early Israelites in a very interesting light. The "virtues" they valued are clearly much different from the morals and ethics that most of us, Christian or otherwise, pursue today. Basically, any manner of trickery seems to be kosher so long as it helps extend the family line.

Isaac's life, post-"sacrifice," is largely uneventful. God continues to physically direct him, telling him where to live and where not to, places he can find suitable brides for his sons and things like that. Chapter 24 is where Isaac finds his own wife, Rebekah, and it's a romantic (if less than grippingly told) tale of predestined love. In the interest of securing territory for his family, in 26:6-11 Isaac pulls his dad's favorite trick, telling the local men that Rebekah is his sister so they won't kill him--consequently putting them in the path of God's wrath if they sleep with her.

By the way, I didn't make a big point of expressing my personal distaste for this tactic the last time out, so I will here. I really can't imagine why an omniscient God couldn't come up with a way to ensure the safety of his chosen people that doesn't involve needlessly endangering the life of innocent "foreigners" (actually the "invaded" party, as it were). Insight from any of you astute and knowledgeable readers would be quite welcome.

Isaac's son Jacob is an unmitigated ethical disaster from the getgo, from a modern point of view--a wascally wabbit if eva thew was one. Granted, a lot of the sibling rivalry stories seem to be allegorical explanations of the failure of the kingdom of Edom (King Saul smacks them down later on). Nonetheless, Jacob's story carries on the unnerving tradition of screwing people over in the service of the Lord.

First, at the end of Chapter 25, brother Esau (father of the Edomites) comes in hungry while Jake's cooking stew. A good brother would hand some over no questions asked, but instead Jake makes the dimwitted Esau fork over his birthright (leadership of the family and a double portion of the inheritance, according to Oxford).

In Chapter 27, Rebekah becomes an accomplice to Jacob's wascally behavior as Isaac lies on his deathbed. It seems that a verbal blessing was a pretty big deal in the day, and poor blind Isaac is intending to confer one on Esau. When Bek overhears the plan, she tells Jake, who runs, makes some food, dresses himself up like Esau and steals the blessing. "Isaac trembled violently" upon learning his mistake, verse 33 tells us. That's a great way to treat your dying father. Esau, who may have actually been trying to give away the birthright earlier, was definitely incensed by having his blessing stolen; in fact, he consoled himself by vowing to kill Jacob.

Bear this in mind: Jacob the blessing-stealer, according to tradition, is the progenitor of all the Jews and Christians in the world. It's really hard for me to square Jacob's behavior with modern Christian ideals.

It doesn't stop, either. Later, after Jacob marries Rachel, we get a fantastically long and convoluted screw-job on Laban (Rachel's dad), wherein they essentially kidnap his whole family and steal all his stuff... then Rachel sits on it while "the way of the woman is upon me" (31:35).

Jacob's crowning moment of okayness is his wrestling match with an angel at Peniel (32:24-32). Like his grandparents (Abram/Abraham and Sarai/Sarah), he emerges with a new name--the radically different "Israel" (God rules). The story is intriguing enough in itself, especially as it seems to imply that the angel cheated ("When the man saw that he did not prevail against Jacob, he struck him on the hip socket and Jacob's hip was put out of joint" [v. 25]), but I never knew the context before, and I'm glad I do now.

See, this wrestling match happens right after Jacob learns that an all-growed-up Esau is one county over and heading this way. Jacob is understandably nervous, and sends out a gigantic gift to try to smooth things over. The thoughts that must have gone through Jake's mind when a guy jumped out of nowhere and started whaling on him are intriguing. Furthermore, the fact that he was left with a limp by the angel's heel turn couldn't have helped his mindset. In the end, though, Esau turned out to be a fantastic sport, and "fell on his neck and kissed him" (33:4)--not a bad example of "forgive and forget" Christianity. I wonder if the Edomites expressed this trait, and if it didn't get them killed.

Finally, I promised in the last entry to say why I expect Jacob to be found eventually. He dies at the very end of Genesis, by which point his son Joseph is second-in-command of the Egyptian empire. The account tells us that they spent forty days embalming him, and then he lay in state for another 70. After that, his remains go to the same cave in which Abraham was buried--in both Jake's and Abe's death stories, pretty explicit directions are given.

Meanwhile, as we know, Egyptian embalming techniques were pretty darned advanced (ask Tutankhamen), so I suspect that Jacob's mummified body, the identity of which could likely be verified by DNA testing against any ethnic Jew, is sitting in a (possibly underground) cave somewhere in Israel, waiting to be discovered. Get out your sand shovels, boys and girls.

Friday, July 14, 2006

FAQ: How do I comment?

Some of us have been blogging since before there was a word for it, and some of us are new to the 'sphere. Even some of us old hands may not be intimately familiar with this particular software. Anyway, for whatever reason, some of you seem to be having trouble commenting.

If you have no interest in starting your own blog, but would like to comment on this one, first find the line uner the post that tells you how many comments it has. Click on that. Now type your comment in the big box, then mark the "Other" button under "Choose an Identity" below. Type in your name and Web site, if you have one, and you're ready to rock.

If you would like to blog yourself, I would recommend signing up for an account. It's free, and it's not like you have to actually go through with blogging (though if you do, blogger.com will host it for you).

Monday, July 10, 2006

Genesis Chs. 12-24: Abraham and Co.

As I'm reading it, this is where the Bible starts its fascinating storytelling prowess. With Abraham, we pass from the old stories into more precisely historical accounts. More to the point, we begin to experience God as a character, in the sense that we think of characters today. He has a personality, he makes himself available and manifest in more than just sporadic bursts--yes, he remains temperamental, but he's a richly textured character.

In Abraham, God does not choose a perfect person. In 12:11-20, he lies to the Egyptians about the identity of his wife, fearing that they'll kill him to have her (she was evidently quite a looker). The entirety of Ch. 20 chronicles the same trick pulled on King Abimelech of Gerar. In both of these instances, Abraham is clearly taking advantage of God's distinctly idiosyncratic sense of justice--God, hating adultery, threatens to make things seriously bad for Sarah's would-be suitors despite their rightfully professed innocence. Of course, God is simultaneously making use of Abraham's... shall we say, lack of qualms about little white lies... to keep him safe as he wanders around doing God's bidding.

Funny thing is, Abraham's son Isaac, who may or may not have heard these stories, pulls the exact same trick later on.

As I mentioned in the flood story, the OT God was given to changes of mind. Chapter 16 tells of Ishmael, born of Abraham by his wife's handmaid Hagar when it becomes clear Sarah herself can't conceive. Later on, at the beginning of Ch. 21, a seriously aged Sarah indeed conceives Isaac, which is to say God makes good on his covenant to make Abraham the father of a great nation twice.

The other nation, according to tradition, is Islam, and with the benefit of hindsight this change of God's mind becomes incredibly important. Upon Isaac's (father of the Jews) birth, Sarah becomes jealous of Ishmael (father of the Muslims), technically Abraham's firstborn, and everyone agrees that Ish and his mom should probably scram. 21:14-18 tell us how God consoles them by promising to make Ishmael a great nation as well, et voila--two nations predisposed to hate each other. Anyone who doesn't understand why the Muslims have a chip on their shoulder hasn't read closely enough.

Meanwhile, Abraham has also haggled with God in the leadup to Sodom and Gomorrah. He really doesn't want God to destroy the towns, where his nephew Lot lives, and manages to convince God to spare the cities if he can find ten righteous people. Fat lot of good it does them, of course--there aren't that many good people there. In fact, there may just be the one (Lot), as his wife can't follow a simple instruction (19:17 and 26), and even his daughters are evidently not above liquoring up their dad and conceiving children by him (19:30-38).

As for the fate of Sodom and Gomorrah, it of course must be mentioned that it is evidence for the sinfulness of homosexuality. There isn't any other way to read it, really--although Lot's wife's fate makes a nice solution to the riddle of why there are big salt pillars out in the middle of nowhere. All we'll say for now is that the framers of the OT weren't big on the gay thing, a notion which will be repeated in the law books a bit down the road. When we get to NT evidence, we'll look at it, but feel free to discuss between now and then.

Of course, Abraham's coup de grace is the near-sacrifice of Isaac, his favorite son, in Ch. 22. Again, we find the father of two nations lying his ever-loving head off, making Isaac schlep his own bier while telling him "no, it's cool, there'll totally be a lamb when we get there" (22:6-8, paraphrased). Of course, at the last second God jumps in, Abe having proved his faithfulness, and spares Isaac, and they all lived happily ever after. Abe even remarried after Sarah died, having six (!) more kids, named in 25:2--which makes Ishmael's tragedy, and that of God's second-favorite nation (from a Jewish viewpoint), all the more poignant.

25:8 sees Abraham's death, and in the next entry, covering Isaac and Jacob's generations, we'll see why someone ought to be able to find his grave. Joseph will be in a separate post since his story, properly read, seems to be a prologue for the exodus more than anything else.